After she lost her son, Tonda Thompson dreamed of a baby in a washing machine. She’d stuffed in dirty clothes and closed the door. The lock clicked shut. Water rushed in. Then she saw him, floating behind the glass. Frantic, she jabbed at a keypad on the machine, searching for a code to unlock the door.
When Thompson became pregnant she was 25, living in Los Angeles and working as a model. She and her boyfriend got engaged and moved back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She’d grown up on the city’s north side, a predominantly African-American neighborhood with pockets of deep poverty, in a zip code known for having the highest incarceration rate in the United States. Thompson went to all of her medical appointments, took prenatal vitamins, and stayed in shape. On her birthday, she wrote on Facebook that the only gift she wanted was “a healthy mom and baby.” But she also wrote about how hard it was to be pregnant in a city where there was “nothing to do that’s fun and safe.”